WOMEN'S volleyball takes the spotlight once more as the pioneering Shakey’s V-League launches its 13th season Saturday at The Arena in San Juan with eight teams of varied strengths chasing the Open Conference crown.
Pre-season favorite Pocari Sweat opens its campaign with a tough test against University of the Philippines at 6:30 p.m., while National University starts its rebuilding process following the graduation of two mainstays as it collides with newcomer Team Laoag at 4 p.m. in the double-header that kicks off the seven-week season-opening tournament of the country’s longest-running league sponsored by Shakey’s Pizza.
Meanwhile, the Spikers' Turf also unveils its second season with Navy and Instituto Estetico Manila clashing in the lone match at 1 p.m., preceding the Shakey’s V-League games.
The league, organized by Sports Vision, also got a big boost as it signed a three-year contract with television giant ABS-CBN, which will air all its Shakey's V-League games live on its ABS-CBN Sports + Action Channel 23.
The Tai Bundit-coached Pocari Sweat Warriors are tipped this early as the team to watch, what with a talent-laden, experienced squad headed by former collegiate stars Michelle Gumabao and Melissa Gohing of La Salle and Myla Pablo of NU.
"We'll be relying on our experience and familiarity with each other to help us through," said Pocari team manager Eric Ty, who encourages their fans to wear the team’s color of blue in their encounter with the Lady Maroons.
But the Warriors are wary of their equally strong rivals from Diliman, who bucked the odds and crashed into the Final Four in the recent UAAP season.
Kat Bersola, Nicole Tiamzon, Issa Molde, Diana Mae Carlos and Justine Dorog are raring to slug it out with the best in the league, with coach Jerry Yee also confident of his wards’ chances to pull off some surprises in the tournament backed by Mikasa and Accel.
NU, for its part, will be banking on its new setters following the graduation of Ivy Perez and Myla Pablo, while Rica Diolan didn’t make the cut.
Larni Abarin, a 5-9 setter who was born in the US to Filipino parents, should fill the void left by Perez and Diolan although the Lady Bulldogs will have to wait a little longer since she will only arrive late next month.
In her absence, coach Roger Gorayeb hopes to draw the best from Audrey Paran and Jasmine Nabor, who has been converted from an open spiker to setter.
Fil-Jap Raisa Sato will also debut in their match against Laoag, bolstering the offense led by holdovers Jaja Santiago, Jorelle Singh and Aika Urdas.
"We have to make do with what we have while we wait for our setter from the US," said NU coach Gorayeb.
Laoag will be mentored by Nes Pamilar and spearheaded by Chi Saet, Wenneth Eulalio, Mylene Paat and Jessica Galanza.